Can Democrats hold on Florida’s CD 26, the closest congressional race in the state this cycle?

Debbie Murcasel-Powell_Carlos Gimenez
Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is battling Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is fighting to defend her seat in Florida’s 26th Congressional District in a race election analysts predict could be the closest congressional race in Florida this cycle.

It’s the only race Larry Sabato sees as a “toss up” in Florida. Other prognosticators put in on par with the open contest in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. Even Mucarsel-Powell herself has predicted the race would be “one of the toughest” not just in Florida, but in the entire country.

Looking to flip the seat is Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, who’s running as a Republican. After serving as Mayor for eight years, he certainly has the name ID to mount a serious challenge against the incumbent.

Mucarsel-Powell won the seat in 2018 by 2 percentage points. Early this cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) identified this seat as being in play. The group placed Mucarsel-Powell in its Frontline Program, which sends resources to potentially vulnerable House Democrats.

Now, voting trends in the county have some Democrats worried, particular regarding Hispanic turnout. CD 26 covers parts of Miami-Dade County but also stretches down to the Keys in Monroe County.

The candidates and their ideological allies have let the attacks fly this cycle, though both sides have used spurious arguments to woo voters within the district.

Outside money has flooded into the race on behalf of both candidates. That’s a sign each side believes the contest is winnable in such a closely contested district.

As she did in her successful 2018 race, Mucarsel-Powell has sought to focus on health care as a priority in Congress.

Mucarsel-Powell has said she would defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Giménez argued he would look to “fix” the law rather than repeal it. But Republicans including Donald Trump have long been on a crusade to eliminate the ACA entirely. Mucarsel-Powell has tried to lump Giménez in with those efforts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also taken center stage given the Mayor’s role in leading Miami-Dade County during the outbreak. The county, which is the most populous in the state, has seen the most infections in Florida. That’s somewhat unsurprising given its dense layout in certain areas as well as its status as a tourist hub.

Giménez did raise eyebrows in mid-June, however, as he downplayed a rise in cases after the county’s original move to reopen alongside Broward and Palm Beach counties.

“We always expected that as we open the economy, we would have more positive rates,” Giménez explained on June 19. “We don’t see this as concerning.”

Just eight days later, on June 27, the continuing rise in cases forced Giménez to announce he would close beaches during the July 4 weekend. By July 1, the county ramped up restrictions on restaurants and hotels. Those were just a few of the measures the county took as infections spiraled out of control through the summer.

Those numbers eventually fell following the Mayor’s backtrack on reopening. With the region again moving to return to normalcy starting in September, the county has seen a slight uptick in the share of COVID-19 tests coming back positive. That number has been above 5% routinely in the past week-plus, though that’s still a far cry from the highs above 20% the county saw during the summer spike.

Giménez is touting his balancing effort between public safety measures and allowing business owners to make a living. Mucarsel-Powell has emphasized her push for further relief efforts following up on the CARES Act. That follow-up bill has so far stalled in Congress.

Public polling has been scarce in the contest. A late July poll commissioned by a GOP group had Giménez ahead 47%-42%. The Congressional Leadership Fund — a super PAC aimed at electing Republicans to the U.S. House — commissioned that survey.

Mucarsel-Powell has clearly led by one metric — money. Since entering the race in January, Giménez has never once outraised Mucarsel-Powell during any reporting period. The incumbent collected more than $6.3 million this cycle compared to just under $1.9 million for Giménez. As of Oct. 14, Mucarsel-Powell held more than $582,000 compared to $232,000 for Giménez.

While Curbelo won the CD 26 race in 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the district by 16 points. Mucarsel-Powell went on to narrowly oust Curbelo in 2018, but those 2016 numbers show there are plenty of Democrats in the district to help her retain the seat.

Will Giménez be able to woo enough voters to take it back? Republicans will be hard-pressed to win control of the House once again. But ousting Mucarsel-Powell in a district that could help drive turnout for President Donald Trump would be a decent consolation prize.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


One comment

  • Sonja Fitch

    November 2, 2020 at 4:43 am

    Health care and pre existing conditions are protected by Democrats! The goptrump death cult is using and abusing our children to community spread the trumpvirus by and thru Nazi socialist herd immunity! Vote Democrat up and down ballot for the common good!

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